Notes from Hunter Creek – Paddling Journeys

Going Light

Practically everyone knows that the less weight carried in your paddle craft means greater maneuverability. Sounds easy, right?    

In other words, bring a 50’ spool of strong nylon braided rope instead of a 14’  log chain for use in an emergency when canoeing.         

And the weight of your craft matters too. Aluminum is heavy and passe’.   ABS thermoplastic is slightly heavier than fiberglass, but way more durable. And then you have lightweight almost see-thru Kevlar canoes and kayaks. These are light and work great for flat water lakes, but not too well on stone-bottom river runs.                 

When I first started paddling in the early 70s, I was a minimalist. I would carry a bit of firestarter, a light weight thin rubber mat to sleep on, a good light down sleeping bag and a small lean-to to keep out of the rain and dew. 

My mess kit was my old U.S.Army kit containing a spoon-fork, small skillet and lid, and my canteen metal cover for heating up water.                         

For food, add a small bag of rice, cream of wheat, can of Vienna sausages, and very little dog food for my Lab, along with leftovers.   

As the years passed, I gradually increased my possessions to also include a small break-apart fishing bent-cast rod and reel.                  

I was soon eating fresh-caught fillets of fish or brats, etc. if fish weren’t biting.       

I also ditched the rubber-mat for even lighter but more comfortable therm-a-rest air pad to sleep on. Through the years I kept my light-weight lean-to, but added a small plastic floor to it.   

In the 90s, I developed an interest in whitewater rafting and gradually started carrying camp chairs, a large parachute tarp for relief from rain and/or the hot sun. With a raft, you could carry many luxuries and I got away from light weight gear.   

My coolers also became larger with the ability to cool food and drink for 5-7 days. Some bad habits were born during this era, and they were hard to break. 

After a six-year hiatus from floating in the north woods country, I decided to return to the fabled Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota, in the Superior National Forest along the Canadian-Ontario border a few years ago. 

There were two river systems which I used to guide on for almost ten years, concluding in 1988. The Isabella River, the wilder of the two, could almost guarantee the fact of not laying an eye on another river traveler until it joined the Kawishiwi River after Bald Eagle Lake. The only problem was halfway down its length lay a falls and series of rapids lasting for over a half mile, plus there were a couple of other drops that required portages. 

As I got older, I became less inclined to want to portage a canoe and gear on my shoulders. Therefore I fell in love with the Kawishiwi River. You reached it by taking Fernberg Road 18 miles east of Ely, Minnesota. After Labor Day, you might see four to six other boaters.

Here, on Lake One, next to the Minnesota-Canada border, you shove off to the south for up to 14 days without paying any permit fees.  If you shove off to the north and venture into the less traveled Quetico Provincial Park of southern Ontario, you must come up with a substantial fee for a Canadian fishing license, daily park fees, and an “entrance fee” that had to paid at the Canadian Ranger Cabin on Rainy Lake, just north of the International Border, and sometimes wait on the Ranger for a couple of hours if he or she is out and about. For all the hassle, and don’t get me wrong, I loved the Quetico. There were fewer people, more fish, but much higher fees than I required to float in Minnesota. As I recall, a six-day out-of-state fishing license could be purchased for around $20 in the State of Minnesota.      

I usually put in just after Labor Day and would take out a week later, and usually bring a local person to spot my vehicle 24 miles downriver at the Minnesota Hwy. 1 bridge. This trip would always involve a lay-over day in the middle in order to fish Bald Eagle Lake, home to large bass and even larger northern pike. The Kawishiwi itself is a noted walleye stream. 

Its downriver traverse involves two short portages from Lake One into the river, and possibly one more depending on water levels, around a 3-4’ drop. All in all, it involved about 66% less portaging than the Isabella route. This is music to my ears at my age,  

To go light: I used a 15’ Mohawk Solo canoe with room for my dog in front. I used my old go-to light river gear.  No cans or bottles are allowed in the BWCA. And I always take an extra rod and reel just in case. 

So almost everything is packed in small plastic bags contained in a larger downriver bag, ie., small bag of spices, brown sugar, powdered cacao, powdered pudding, bag of brown rice, bag of venison jerky, box of cream-of-wheat (it makes a nice light breading for fried fish or can be eaten when fishing is slow); and a bag of Tang and instant coffee bags.  All water may be obtained on any BWCA interior lake (90% of them, where no outboards are allowed) without water treatment. Just make sure and obtain all water well away from shore to reduce the presence of giardia. And wear light weight wool and gore-tex.

In other words, a weeks worth of food and mess kit can be carried in a small pack.                 

Note (May 19):

On almost all of my guided trips, we seldom had to eat any Cream of Wheat; other than on the fish fillets. As a solo paddler most of my larger fish were caught while paddling and trolling.   

The fish in this part of the BWCA, in order of prevalence are: Northern Pike, Walleye, Perch, Smallmouth and Largemouth, and large Sunfish. There are no crappie and no lake trout. 

Learn to fillet and side flank your larger Northern; the small ones are called Snakes (8-13 inches) and are thrown back.  

One other thing that I noticed on my most recent float in the BWCA. Extra poundage on the paddler also matters. 

Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!